Novel environmental package to bolster Aran's farming heritage
IT IS now mid-June and the colours of the fields, hedgerows and wider countryside are simply wonderful. This is the unique beauty of our changing seasons and while at times we might yearn to live on a warm Greek island, those who do never experience the lush greens, the explosions of blossom and rampant growth of spring and early summer we enjoy in Ireland.
Looking out my office window, I am constantly distracted by the huge numbers of songbirds dashing back and forth as they gather food for their young.
Come late July, most of this activity will cease as the birds go silent and retire to shelter and moult.
By then, the myriad greens of the trees and hedges will have blended to a darker and more uniform shade and the blossom of the hawthorn, rowan and elder will have become berries, providing food for wildlife for the coming winter.
As the seasons slowly and subtly alter the landscape, each change brings a fresh delight.
Ireland has so much to offer if we only pause and enjoy it. The rich green midlands, the stark limestone pavements and flowers of the Burren, the boreens of Wexford and the wonderful scenery of Kerry, West Cork, Galway and Mayo.
In summer, despite all the beauties of the Meath countryside, I find I become drawn towards the seaside and there are no better holidays than a few days spent visiting our fabulous coast and beaches.
I have been to most spots but this year I hope to break fresh ground and spend some time on the Aran Islands.
The three islands of Aran, Inis Mór, Inis Meáin and Inis Oírr are actually a fragmented reef of the Burren region of northwest Clare.
Like the Burren, they are of great ecological importance and the type of agriculture practiced over the centuries has created a high nature value system containing a mixture of rare Irish and European habitat types.
More than 75pc of the total land area on the islands is now designated as a Special Area of Conservation. Most of this information was sent to me by Dr Amanda Browne, scientific/ technical officer for the AranLIFE Project and I must admit it made my mind up to definitely visit the islands this summer.
The project is a new initiative aimed at harnessing local farming knowledge and experience with current scientific expertise to overcome some of the challenges of island farming.
It is hoped to also have the benefit of improving the conservation status of the designated sites.
The project has committed to covering up to 1,000 hectares of farmland habitats including limestone pavement, orchid rich calcareous grasslands and machair. If, like me, you weren't sure what machair means, it's an area of sandy coastal grassland, normally home to a range of wild flowers that are unique to these locations.
The total budget for the project is more than €2.5m, with 75pc of the money coming from the EU's LIFE+ funding programme for the environment.
Despite the begrudgers, this is just further evidence that we do get a lot of benefits from our membership of the EU. With more than 250,000 tourists visiting the islands annually, AranLIFE will benefit both farming and the tourist industry and in turn benefit all island residents.
Work will take place over a four-year period with the emphasis on developing farm management plans, profiling the grazing potential, improving access to land parcels by clearing boreens and controlling scrub and bracken, while improving access to water for livestock, nutrient management and monitoring the impact of these actions.
The project now has an office set-up on Inis Oírr and the team includes Dr Patrick McGurn, project manager, Dr Browne whom I mentioned earlier, and Gráinne Ní Chonghaile, administration and financial officer. They have a website, www.aranlife.ie which is being further developed and a Facebook page and twitter account @AranLIFE.
Information on the Natura-designated sites of the three islands can be found at: http://www.npws.ie/protectedsites/ Also check out www.aranislands.ie .
Work has been ongoing since January, but the official launch will take place on Inis Oírr this Friday (June 20).